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France

Macron’s concessions to protesters draw mixed response

media French Yellow Vest protesters watch the speech of President Emmanuel Macron at the town of La Ciotat, near Marseille, 10 December 2018. Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Many Yellow Vest protesters around France dismissed measures announced by President Emmanuel Macron on Monday evening, though some saw a few meaningful gestures.

In his first address to French people since Yellow Vest protests began in mid-November, Macron promised to raise the minimum wage by 100 euros per month, lower taxes for pensioners and allow small businesses not to tax year-end bonuses, among other measures.

For many involved in the protests, which began in opposition to a fuel tax hike before transforming to a widespread opposition to the government’s fiscal policies and image, the announcements did not amount to much at this point.

“Too little, too late, after too much violence and contempt. See you Saturday!” wrote Eric Drouet, one of the self-appointed spokespersons of the movement, in a post to Facebook, referring to calls for a fifth consecutive weekend of nationwide demonstrations.

Some Yellow Vests who had gathered in public places to hear the president’s address also vowed to continue weeks of blockades.

“This is piecemeal. This is so we go home before the holidays, but we’re going to stay,” Thierry, a protester in the town of Senlis north of Paris, told RFI.

“If he [Macron] had spoken at the beginning at the movement, it might have made a difference. But now he’s in a difficult spot. If I were him, I’d resign,” said Dominique, at the same gathering.

Others involved with protests saw what could be the beginning of the end of the impasse with the government.

“This is a start, but we need to see measures that are more concrete and stronger,” said another would-be spokesperson, Benjamin Cauchy.

Some protesters cited an awareness of their problems in the speech.

“The increase of 100 euros, it’s really not bad,” said Erwan, an organiser in Rennes, to AFP agency, adding the measures for retirees would “give them a little more” and that “the end of the year bonus too, it’s very good.”

“There are some good ideas, it’s a mea culpa which arrives too late but we will not spit on it,” Claude Rambour, a protester from Calais, told the agency.

The 42-year-old added that Macron “should have gone further” and fears the speech aims to “divide the yellow vests”.

Political opponents also give mixed response

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will be in parliament on Tuesday to try and convince lawmakers that the president’s speech has met the demands of the movement.

The government is under pressure from opponents across the political spectrum to avoid a fifth week of costly and violent protests, and it will also have to elaborate on how the measures will be financed.

France will “surely have to widen its deficit” in a “strictly temporary” manner, said parliamentary speaker Richard Ferrand, an ally of Macron.

Opposition leaders sought to dismiss any notion that Macron’s announcements amounted to significant changes.

“Faced with protests, Macron renounces part of his fiscal errors, which is good, but he refuses to admit that what’s being contested is the model that he champions,” tweeted Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, formerly the National Front.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left-wing France Unbowed movement, said his support was with those planning to demonstrate again on Saturday.

“All the measures he announced will be paid by taxpayers and by those who received social benefits,” Mélenchon said. “None will be paid by the wealthy”.

Other political opponents argues that Macron had made the necessary gestures for the protests to come to an end.

“There comes a time, like the unions say, for a movement to stop,” said Eric Woerth, a former budget minister in the right-wing opposition party Les Républicains, saying that Macron had offered “immediate and concrete measures”.

“I think it’s time to stop the blockades, to get on with life,” said Woerth, encouraging protesters “to consider what was said and done”.

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